Architectural Knowledge: The Idea of a Profession

Architectural Knowledge: The Idea of a Profession

Architectural Knowledge: The Idea of a Profession

Architectural Knowledge: The Idea of a Profession

Excerpt

To the social historian the record of the professions in the twentieth century has been one of continuous and indeed accelerating success. My own experience as president of the Royal Institute of British Architects for two years in the mid-1990s felt very different. From this particular perspective, whatever collective successes the architectural profession may or may not have achieved over the last few decades seemed totally unimportant to individual members. Why was this? Could it be because, as so many architects made a point of telling me, they felt bitter personal disappointment that the expectations stimulated by a long and arduous training had never been fulfilled? How can this contradiction be explained? Is the sense of individual failure and alleged collective success peculiar to architects? Are the criteria for individual and professional success inherently different? Is there, indeed, any relation between the two?

The difficulties so many individual architects face have made them demand that their professional institute should be doing much more for them—generating new work, advertising architectural services to an ever-widening public, making a compact with the government, neutralizing or, even better, annihilating the competition. Underlying this question are deeper and more general ones: what should a professional body be trying to do for its members? What is a profession actually for?

As we approach what promises to be a golden age of professionalism—an information-rich period in which access to specialized knowledge will be valued more highly than ever before—answers to these questions are critically important, and not just for architects. The papers in this collection were written hurriedly over three decades and to mark many occasions. Despite this scattered provenance, the contribution they make to this debate is oddly consistent. This is the argument, repeated and developed in many ways, that it is not so much the possession of knowledge that justifies the existence of the professions but rather the degree of success with which professionals have found better ways to develop their own particular kinds of knowledge. Professionalism flourishes to the extent that professionals work openly together in the context of action to augment

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